326 FashThe Justin Fashanu story
by Nick Baker
Reid Publishing, £14.99
Reviewed by Paul Buller
From WSC 326 April 2014

Buy this book


How much is there left to say about a man of whom so much has already been said? This biography of Justin Fashanu will certainly not be the last. The sleeve notes of Nick Baker's Forbidden Forward promise more detail than ever before and to identify "those who are to blame for his untimely death".

That salacious hook thankfully fails to live up to its promise and is a distraction from what is a comprehensive insight into Fashanu's life, from birth through to the moment he took his own life aged just 37, with intimate contributions from those acquainted with him along almost every step of the way.

Described as "a hero to some, a conman to others and an enigma to most", Fashanu's story is that of a young black footballer's struggle to make it in his career and life, with the added burden of coming to terms with being a gay man in two unforgiving environments – professional football and evangelical Christianity.

This could be the story of many a young player: catapulted to stardom as a teen, treated brutally by a new manager (Brian Clough), terrible with money but fond of the high life. But it's the mix of circumstances that make Fashanu's tale so engaging. He was a striker of supreme ability with a penchant for on-field violence; an intelligent, gentle, well-spoken young man off the pitch who was both introvert and extrovert, aloof and needy, avaricious and generous.

It's a shame then that what should be a fairly fluid tale jars at regular intervals. The story of his early idyllic life in sleepy rural Norfolk, where Fashanu grew up boxing and playing endless football, is brought to a screeching halt by clunky metaphors and segues: "While other kids his age were down the arcade or hanging out on street corners smoking, Fashanu was perfecting his punch and smoking opponents" is but one of many that get in the way.

The author feels the need to remind us too often that life will not always be as rosy as the early years: portents of the doom are waiting at every opportunity, mostly at the end of chapters in what feels like an unnecessary plea for us to keep reading.

Baker also occasionally offers his opinion on Fashanu's state of mind and the treatment he received as a black and openly gay man but it's more pub psychology than insight. When we're treated to a graphic description of how the book's subject took his own life we're told, twice, what he was thinking as he he did it. Fashanu was alone at the time, left only a simple note and told no one of his intentions, yet the author writes as if he was there.

In the end, no one is blamed for Fashanu's death, but don't take that as a spoiler. Beyond the publisher's hype and some slack editing, the book gives an insight into a tumultuous life that remains as intriguing now as it did when Justin Fashanu was alive.

Buy this book

326 Willieby Willie Morgan with Simon Wadsworth
Trinity Mirror, £16.99
Reviewed by Graham McColl
From WSC 326 April 2014

Buy this book


If the purpose of this book were to rid Willie Morgan of the image of being George Best's doppelganger, it sets about it in a strange fashion. Behind the main picture on the cover, faint background images show Morgan at various stages of his life from babe to footballer but, inexplicably, the only other person amid these images is Best, Morgan's late 1960s and early 1970s fellow winger at Manchester United. On the inside back flap, there is a picture of Morgan in a United strip… along with Best. Inside the book there is only one advertisement for another publication – a page-sized promotion for The Best of Best, a "souvenir magazine" from the Daily Mirror that boasts "lost images" of "The Genius As You've Never Seen Him Before".

George is given further prominence once the story begins, receiving a mention on more than 40 pages. Yet in Bestie, George's own 1998 authorised biography, Morgan features only twice, both times derogatorily. "Morgan always seemed a bit jealous," Georgie says. Morgan, in contrast, on first mention of Best, says, touchingly, that their lives would be "intertwined".

Pushing this book on the back of Best, as someone has decided to do, is unnecessary. Morgan is an engaging storyteller, a happy-go-lucky individual with an underlying toughness forged, as he relates in excellent detail, through his upbringing in Sauchie, the Clackmannanshire mining village. He is also capable of some fabulous self-promotion: "Along with Geroge Best [who else?], I was one of the two biggest stars in football," he says of mid-1968 – the era of Eusébio, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Jimmy Johnstone, Pelé, Denis Law et al.

One early inconsistency almost brings the tale to a shuddering halt, though. Willie states that his dad, after a theological dispute with a Canon Matthews in Sauchie when Willie was around 12, had "wanted to kill" Matthews, and never went to church again. Yet, when Willie turns 15, his dad keeps him on at school, on the advice of a priest, rather than sending him down the pit, because: "My dad was never one to go against the wishes of the church." This seeming inconsistency is more than a pedantic niggle. If Willie goes down the mine, he doesn't play schools football, doesn't get spotted by Burnley FC, doesn't become a pro footballer, doesn't write this book.

Get over that hurdle and the book lives up to the breathless cover blurb of "hundreds of tales" about "the hell-raising Best [him again] and a host of others", although the story of Scotland's 1974 World Cup is shockingly light on insider detail. Things peter out with post-playing tales of socialising with people such as Rod Stewart which does at least bring some amusement, with a schoolboyishly eager Stewart asking Willie, as they attend a match, to relate each stage of his own pre-match professional routine. "I would probably be picking some horses out right now for the next race," Morgan replies. His yarn is like that all the way through and plentifully enjoyable for it.

Buy this book

326 Gillespieby Keith Gillespie
Sport Media, £16.99
Reviewed by Robbie Meredith
From WSC 326 April 2014

Buy this book


The advance publicity for, and newspaper serialisation of, Keith Gillespie's autobiography concentrated heavily on his prodigious gambling habit. Given that Gillespie estimates he squandered around £7 million over the course of his career this is understandable, but How Not To Be A Football Millionaire is much more than a tale of beaten dockets. To his credit, Gillespie refuses to wallow in self-pity or to portray himself as a particularly likeable man.

Rather he comes across as intelligent, complex and contradictory – despite a lifelong, and ultimately damaging, habit of refusing to face up to conflict or responsibility, he's refreshingly willing to put the boot in now his career is over. He's withering about Stuart Pearce's "Psycho" image, and there's a telling depiction of Graeme Souness striding around Blackburn's training ground in nothing but a towel and formal shoes, but his deepest scorn is reserved for his former manager at Sheffield United, Kevin Blackwell. There's an elongated and blackly comic account of his time working under Blackwell, which culminates in a series of late-night abusive text messages.

Gillespie's chronic gambling habit is nurtured at Old Trafford early in his career, where he gladly takes on the task of placing bets for Alex Ferguson, but it reaches its nadir at Newcastle. One of the most pathetic images in the book, although I doubt if he sees it that way, is of Gillespie spending endless afternoons on his sofa – phone in one hand and Racing Post in the other – placing huge telephone bets on the horses. A crisis comes when he loses £62,000 in two days, but the strengths and flaws in Kevin Keegan's management are apparent when, rather than imploring his player to seek help, he organises a club payment to Gillespie's bookie to clear the debt; a misguided act which, yet again, prevents the player from taking charge of his own life.

Money, clubs and marriages alike then come and go, while no night out is turned down. "Anything," he puts it, "to relieve the boredom." Gillespie was a very good player, but it's tempting to wonder how much better he'd have been without being out on the lash three nights a week. He remembers only two games, for Newcastle against Barcelona and Northern Ireland's famous win over England in 2005, where he actually sat in after a match.

A typically hasty and mistaken attempt to make a quick buck by investing in film schemes leads to bankruptcy late in his career when he can least afford it. However, this ultimately forces Gillespie to counter the failings in his own character, not least by opening the numerous final demand envelopes cluttering up his living room. It is too cliched to claim that Gillespie achieves redemption at the end of his tale. Rather he gains the uncertain gift of a better understanding of himself. In doing so, he provides a compelling glimpse into the dark void inherent in the modern age of adrenaline-fuelled football celebrity.

Buy this book

324 ArmstrongThe David Armstrong biography
by David Armstrong 
with Pat Symes
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Harry Pearson
From WSC 324 February 2014

Buy this book


There was always something a little Dickensian about Middlesbrough and Southampton midfielder David Armstrong. Small, prematurely bald, slightly portly with a face that fell naturally into an expression of melancholy, he was more Oliver Twist than the 1970s footballer of popular mythology. Even his nickname Spike has a whiff of the Victorian workhouse about it.

The nickname, it transpires, was given to him by Middlesbrough team-mate Basil Stonehouse for no other reason than that Stonehouse thought someone in the squad should have it. It's the kind of anticlimactic tale that seems to have characterised Spike's career. A hard-working left-sided player and an excellent passer and crosser, Armstrong scored over 100 goals from midfield and was so robust at times he seemed indestructible (he made 356 consecutive appearances for Boro).

He was not a dribbler though, nor was he quick, both of which counted against him when it came to international honours – he was only capped twice by his country. Trophies too eluded him. At Ayresome Park Jack Charlton's reluctance to spend money – faced with a choice between Trevor Francis or Alf Wood, Big Jack opts, naturally, for the latter – scotches Middlesbrough's chances of silverware, while Southampton fall agonisingly short of a Double in 1983-84 with Armstrong playing in all 51 games.

While other footballers' autobiographies are often brimming with bitterness or rancour, The Bald Facts is tinged with sadness and regret. Armstrong's career ended by an ankle injury that was treated in so bungling a manner the player is barely able to stand up for several years, his finances in tatters, you come away from reading it with the impression that the midfielder feels let down, not necessarily by individuals, but by the game itself.

As is too often the case the player's unworldliness has hardly helped his cause. You don't need to be a genius to realise that when you are going to court for an alimony hearing driving into the car park in a brand new red Mercedes is not the best idea. That's what Armstrong does though. The results are predictable – his wife gets the house and whacking great yearly maintenance payments. "I came out of that court and burst pathetically into tears," Spike records. There are a lot of tears in these pages, the odd laugh too, and a rather puzzling story about dognapping and Joe Laidlaw. Ultimately though there's a sense of promise unfulfilled and of tales half told.

I started reading The Bald Facts during the hullabaloo that followed FA chairman Greg Dyke's comments on the number of foreign players in the Premier League weakening the national team. Armstrong, of course, played when there were very few non-British professionals in the English top flight so it is instructive to see the midfield Ron Greenwood selected for the game against West Germany in 1982. Alongside Armstrong were Alan Devonshire, Ricky Hill and Ray Wilkins. Is that the sort of line-up that would strike fear into the hearts of the current Spanish, German or Brazilian sides?

Buy this book

324 Dunphyby Eamon Dunphy
Penguin Ireland, £20
Reviewed by Dave Hannigan
From WSC 324 February 2014

Buy this book


Near the end of this enthralling book, Eamon Dunphy devotes a chapter to George Best, somebody he first encountered when they were both apprentices at Manchester United. Over the course of two particular anecdotes, one involving an afternoon's drinking in London that segues into a tabloid sting of Best's own orchestration, the other a night where the fallen icon plays pool with a Down's syndrome boy in a pub on the northside of Dublin, Dunphy paints as revealing and as poignant a portrait of the late genius as you will find just about anywhere.

In recent years, Dunphy has become something of a caricature of himself on Irish TV, making outrageous, often ill-informed comments on European and international football. Watching this admittedly entertaining cabaret act, it's easy to forget he has often been one of the most perceptive and insightful writers on the sport, from Only A Game?, the first warts-and-all journeyman diary of a season, to A Strange Kind Of Glory, his fine book on Matt Busby's United. Thankfully, The Rocky Road (the first volume of his memoirs – it ends in 1990) is a worthy companion to both those works.

While there are sections dealing with Irish politics and the Dublin media that may baffle and/or bore British readers, they are dwarfed by the substance of the book which is actually a gripping account of one man's journey through football. From his arrival at an Old Trafford still recovering from Munich to his role as national pariah for legitimately criticising the primitive style of Jack Charlton's Ireland during Italia 90, this is a complex and often uncomfortable read.

It isn't every football autobiography that deals with child abuse (he was a victim), and rails eloquently against the Catholic church and former president Eamon de Valera, the institutions that defined Ireland for much of the 20th century. Between his childhood in poverty in Dublin in the 1940s and 1950s to becoming one of the highest-paid personalities in Irish media, Dunphy lived many lives and they are all available here in fabulous detail.

The naive apprentice gambling away money he didn't have with Barry Fry and witnessing the arrival from Belfast of a teenage prodigy who would change the game. The journeyman pro growing embittered and disillusioned with the harsh reality of professional football at York, Millwall and Reading. A brief and disastrous spell trying to transform the League of Ireland alongside Johnny Giles in the mid-1970s. Through each incarnation, Dunphy is tough on a lot of people he met (Terry Venables, Bert Millichip and a cast of FAI blazers receive entertaining sideswipes), but true to his personality he is always hardest on himself and his own inadequacies.

One of the things that makes this such an enjoyable read is Dunphy's self-deprecating tone when recalling his own limitations as a footballer. Whatever they were, very few writers have offered us such a revealing glimpse into the brutal reality of an unforgiving sport in the 1960s and 1970s.

Buy this book

323 LawKing and country
by Alex Gordon
Arena, £17.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 323 January 2014

Buy this book


It's easy to understand why Denis Law was, and still is, idolised by so many Scotland fans. As this chronicle of his international career reminds us, he just loved pulling on the navy blue jersey. There's a palpable sense that he was just as excited and proud about his last cap – in Scotland's opening 1974 World Cup group match against Zaire – as he was when he made his debut against Wales in 1958.

He could play a bit too, which helped of course. Law remains, alongside Kenny Dalglish, his country's record goalscorer with 30 to his name. Twice he scored four goals in a game and he put a few in the back of the net against England. No doubting the iconic status of "the Lawman" then, but the trouble is this book just about goes right off the scale with the adulation. Superlatives are served up by the trowel – there's just about a different one for every goal that Law scored in his entire senior career and he got 325 of them. So it's not only the constant references to games from the Home Internationals and Scotland appearing in World Cup finals that evoke a bygone age. In an era where the warts-and-all biography laden with tales of compulsive behaviour disorders and dysfunctional relationships within dressing rooms is now the accepted norm you are left craving more gritty insight.

While the idiosyncratic Aberdonian seems nothing other than a down-to-earth type there are still a few aspects of his international career that would surely have justified some considered scrutiny. It's widely accepted that spanning the 1960s the Scotland team, blessed with talents such as Law, Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone and others, underperformed by quite a margin in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, failing to reach the finals of either between 1958 and 1974. Just how much did the obsession with giving the English a right doing, personified by Law, distort and distract the national side's focus?

Even when Law was part of the squad that was taken to the 1974 finals there was a fair bit of hullabaloo about his inclusion which is only lightly dwelt upon here. It's pointed out that then manager Willie Ormond robustly defended the decision – however the fact that he was immediately dropped after the Zaire opener is surely a pointer that this was an issue worthy of more thoughtful examination. The trials and frustrations that Law faced with his lengthy injury woes and loss of form from 1967 onwards is another facet barely touched on.

Still, if as a kid like me you went around parading the trademark clenched cuff salute every time you scored a goal in the playground, there is probably more than enough here for you to enjoy wallowing in the nostalgia. It's just a shame we don't learn as much about Law the enigma as Law the legend.

Buy this book

322 ImmortalThe approved biography of George Best
by Duncan Hamilton
Century, £20.00
Reviewed by Robbie Meredith
From WSC 322 December 2013

Buy this book


Despite what Immortal would have you believe, George Best divides opinion in his home country. For each of the tens of thousands who stood reverently in the Belfast rain for his 2005 funeral, there is a counterpart embarrassed and infuriated by the constant scandals and drunken antics. It is a mark of his status, of course, that most people in Northern Ireland still care enough to have an opinion about Best – good or bad – and it is unlikely that Duncan Hamilton's "approved" biography will change what they think. Written with the blessing of Best's sister Barbara, the sibling most active in guarding his memory, Immortal has few words of condemnation for even the worst of his excesses, preferring to depict chaos engulfing Best, rather than something he was primarily responsible for.

The early chapters, detailing his rise, are familiar but still thrilling. The shy, good-looking boy from Belfast, spotted by the legendary scout Bob Bishop and a surrogate son to Matt Busby, becomes the fulcrum of an outstanding Manchester United team until Europe is conquered when Best is barely 22. Even in the "el Beatle" years, he lodged in a neat terraced house with the redoubtable Mary Fullaway, and it was a home he would often return to even as things were going wrong in later years.

Yet the hour of Best's greatest triumph, that 4-1 victory over Benfica at Wembley, is the beginning of a long, drawn-out end. Despite his iconic goal he felt he hadn't played well in the final, a portent of disappointments to come. In the troubled aftermath the book, echoing its subject, rather loses its way. While we now know much more of the twin afflictions of alcoholism and depression, from which he undoubtedly suffered, I suspect that Hamilton makes more excuses for Best's behaviour than Best, to his credit, 
actually did.

For, as Hamilton tells it, Best suffered primarily from feeling an excess of love, not for the booze and birds of tabloid tales, but for football and primarily Manchester United. His life does indeed come to resemble a kind of hell – in one telling passage, coachloads of visitors come to picnic in the unfenced garden of his ill-advised modernist home, Che Sera, and turn it into a spectral prison by gawping constantly through the all-encompassing glass.

Immortal becomes a long plea for understanding, and a lament that it wasn't a quality successive Manchester United managers after Busby displayed in Best's case. Yet although he was in the grip of twin evils, it is hard to see how Wilf McGuinness or Frank O'Farrell could have made more allowances for him, and Hamilton protests too much when he dismisses Best's drink-driving, assaults and violence against women in little more 
than a few sentences.

Hamilton is a terrific writer but he seems more determined to be sympathetic towards his subject than Best, in his more reflective moments, was about himself. Immortal is a fine biography and a fascinating portrait of a dawning age of sporting celebrity, but will appeal most to those already inclined to view Best as the last of the doomed football romantics.

Buy this book

321 SmallTimeA life in the 
football wilderness
by Justin Bryant
Bennion Kearny, £6.99
Reviewed by Ian Plenderleith
From WSC 320 October 2013

Buy this book


Unknown American goalkeeper Justin Bryant begins his memoir in the middle of a nature reserve watching alligators, describing the "sheer improbability [of] these Jurassic river dragons". That's the first thing that strikes you about Bryant – he doesn't need a ghostwriter. And he'd be the first to admit that's just as well, because his football career didn't pay him enough to afford one.

There have been a good number of books by lower-level players in recent years describing the nitty-gritty of life at the game's hard end, and long may struggling ex-pros continue to counter the egregious banality of the mailed-in Premier League star's cynical book, hacked out in a few days for a six-figure advance. Small Time is an excellent prototype for any former player with a good story to tell. Bryant is honest, thoughtful, economic and introspective enough to realise his own shortcomings as a player and a person.

Growing up a fan of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the North American Soccer League, and idolising goalkeeper Winston DuBose, Bryant becomes a decent high school goalkeeper and wins a scholarship to Radford University in Virginia. There his "sudden, terrible temper" during games wins him few friends and his scholarship is rescinded because of low grades. He returns to Florida, "a college flameout with no job", and starts to play for the Orlando Lions, a team of college and ex-pro players that includes DuBose. From here on it's a fragmented, frustrated career that takes him to various clubs including Brentford, Boreham Wood and Dunfermline Athletic, punctuated by spells back in Florida, all the time on low wages (if he gets paid at all), working supplementary menial jobs, and indulging in sporadic bouts of heavy drinking to drown his self-doubt.

While there are just enough glimpses of success and professional satisfaction to keep him motivated, Bryant's career suffers because of his unwillingness to put in the extra training he knows is necessary to improve and impress, and because of his chronic pre-game nerves. His crippling fear of making an error and costing his team the game – a full-time burden that only a goalkeeper has to bear – leads to a debilitating, and undiagnosed, stomach condition that he carries with him for years and which only subsides when he steps back from football. Making a comeback for the Lions in his 30s after being lured by the prospect of $50 a game just for sitting on the bench, Bryant suddenly finds he is the first-choice keeper and writes: "My gut rippled with excitement and dread, a feeling I hadn't had in years. Nothing about it was pleasant." When he plays well, he's above all else "relieved that I hadn't made an idiot of myself".

However, there's far more to this book than the author's insecurities. This is a finely written chronicle of butt-end semi-pro football, its moronic dressing-room culture, the tedium of travel, the philosophy of goalkeeping, the political perils of ever-changing coaches and team-mates and the constant, pressing need to prove yourself, game after game, only to realise after several years that "being part of a team… apparently didn't suit my personality". Being a writer, though, clearly does.

Buy this book

321 BellamyMy autobiography
by Craig Bellamy
Sport Media, £18.99
Reviewed by Rob Hughes
From WSC 320 October 2013

Buy this book


As his old boss Mark Hughes points out in the foreword to GoodFella, Craig Bellamy has a lot of strengths but diplomacy isn't one of them. It's an approach that's landed him in all shades of bother throughout a nomadic career, from the "nutter with a putter" spat with John Arne Riise to brawling with bouncers outside nightclubs. It's all laid bare here, though the real selling point of this highly engrossing memoir (written with the Daily Mirror's Oliver Holt as guide) is Bellamy's frank and often painful honesty. Especially when it comes to himself.

It's unflattering stuff. Here is a man utterly consumed by football, driven by insecurity and a will to succeed that frequently veers into self-admonishment. Such intensity, he says, turned him into "the human snarl". Dogged by repeated knee injuries, he's sulky and uncommunicative, especially with his wife and kids. He admits to infidelities. And during his final days at Newcastle he becomes obnoxious and arrogant.

The watershed moment comes in November 2011, with the suicide of his idol and close friend Gary Speed. Cue a rigorous stock-take of his life and destructive personality, followed by therapy with British Olympic psychiatrist Steve Peters. Bellamy finally allows himself to let go of his rage. By then it's too late to save his marriage but what emerges is a more forgiving, open and ultimately contented character.

Not that Bellamy was ever a footballing pariah – there are plenty of former team-mates who vouch for him both as a human being and professional – but GoodFella doesn't hold back when it comes to those he disliked. Graham Poll comes across as a self-serving "celebrity ref", starstruck by David Beckham and Patrick Vieira. And while Bellamy cites Bobby Robson as the best manager he ever worked with, his successor Graeme Souness is the iron fist who came in looking for a fight.

Both Rafa Benítez and Roberto Mancini are portrayed as joyless control freaks, the former an "unsmiling headmaster" with no room for spontaneity or sentiment, an attention-seeking dictator. City's Brazilian folly Robinho is appallingly lazy, both in training and on the pitch, and a spoilt man-child when Bellamy confronts him about it.

Perhaps the most damning verdict is reserved for one-time Newcastle strike partner Alan Shearer, who is seen as a self-absorbed egotist with a yellow streak. Bellamy gleefully recounts the England man's reluctance to leave the pitch after a game against Manchester United, knowing that Roy Keane (who'd been sent off for a Shearer-related fracas) was waiting in the tunnel. And after hearing he'd supposedly dissed him to others after moving on to Celtic, Bellamy texts Shearer directly after Newcastle's lame FA Cup semi-final defeat in 2005: "Fucking typical of you. Looking at everyone else yet again. You need to look at yourself instead." Shearer threatens to knock him out next time he's in Newcastle.

All of this serves as a thoroughly refreshing antidote to the usual blandness that makes for football biographies. But GoodFella is far more substantial than just a series of delicious anecdotes. It feels like a rich confession from one of the game's most misconstrued personalities.

Buy this book

319 Stupidby Paul McVeigh
Bloomsbury, £14.99
Reviewed by Ashley Clark
From WSC 319 September 2013

Buy this book


Since his retirement from football in 2010, diminutive former Norwich City midfielder and Northern Ireland international Paul McVeigh has worked hard to create a brand for himself. A regular pundit on TV and radio, he also treads the speaker's circuit and has co-founded the company ThinkPro alongside sports psychologist Gavin Drake, which trails itself on its website as an "Elite Performance Development Programme". It's all a long way from the days when ex-pros simply bought pubs when their playing days were done.

McVeigh's first book – the alarmingly titled (but largely uncontroversial) The Stupid Footballer Is Dead – is constructed as a 12-step guide for professional and aspiring footballers aiming to realise their potential and develop successful careers. Based largely around McVeigh's thesis that mental strength is gradually replacing the need for physical strength in modern football, it is clearly structured and easy to follow, as each chapter concludes with a case study and a capsule summary of its key points. However, it is sometimes repetitive and better consumed in chunks rather than one sitting.

Though one's overall enjoyment and appreciation of The Stupid Footballer will likely hinge on their level of tolerance for the near-messianic tone and buzzword-heavy language of the self-help industry (when McVeigh glowingly mentions Paul McKenna, he's not talking about the ex-Preston North End midfielder), much of the book's content is undeniably salient. In chapters with titles such as "Define and follow goals", "Create a helpful self-image", and "Think about thinking" he offers a host of practical suggestions filtered through his own wealth of professional experience. McVeigh is not shy of the occasional critique, either – he is particularly scathing of England's 2010 World Cup squad, who he castigates for their lack of positivity, and has some choice words regarding Joey Barton's perceived lack of professionalism.

McVeigh comes across as likeable enough but he often lapses into cliche, while an occasional lack of self-awareness in his choice of language bleeds through. When, in the final chapter ("There is life after football"), he boasts of having "delivered stand-up comedy", it's impossible not to think of David Brent. Another unintentional laugh-out-loud moment arrives when McVeigh describes Pisa FC as having "failed to sign him", rather than him "failing to secure a contract"; this kind of lacuna in logic is perhaps a corollary of the bulletproof self-confidence he's engendered in himself through practising what his book preaches. That said, McVeigh is candid about some of his earlier career mistakes (often involving a drink or two) and offers welcome slivers of personal information about his upbringing in Belfast against the backdrop of the Troubles.

Ultimately, even though its content is hardly revolutionary, it's not too much of a leap to say that The Stupid Footballer Is Dead, with its neatly pedagogical structure, could come to be used as a key text for coaches looking to help focus the minds of young players across the country. However, it remains to be seen whether the current generation of English footballers, who McVeigh characterises as being hooked on Xbox, will pay it much attention.

Buy this book

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday